My trips to Chihuahua have been divided between the Casas Grande area and the Coper Canyon area.  The Casas Grandes Trips are presented on this page, the Copper Canyon area is presented on a page of its own.

Casas Grandes Area

I have ventured south to the Casas Grandes area of Chihuahua on several occasions - not counting the trips through the area to and from Copper Canyon.  On each of these trips we have used Luis Benavidez of the Pink Store in Palomas as our guide/driver and have been completely satisfied with the results.  Photographs from these trips are found at:  The Birds of Mexico photo gallery and the Chihuahua Photos photo gallery.  



Macaw Pens at Paquimé

In mid-April, 2014, we joined friends for a trip to Paquimé in northwestern Chihuahua.  Paquimé, which is also referred to as Casas Grandes, is a site that I have wanted to visit since I first started to study the Mogollon culture.  The Mogollon, in general, and the Mimbres, in particular, are the ancestral people of the Black Range, New Mexico.  


The structures at Paquimé are made of adobe (see photo above) with key hole doorways typical of the Mogollon and Pueblo cultures.  The doorway shown to the right is a monolithic keyhole cut in stone, it was found at the site and is on display in the museum.

During the last few years we have been reluctant to travel in northern Mexico because of the drug and gun running.  We had a chance to set up a tour with Luis Benavidez, who is associated with the Pink Store in Palomas, and jumped at the opportunity.  Luis leads monthly tours to Juan Mata Ortiz and Paquimé but because we were able to get enough people together we went on an unscheduled tour.  We enjoyed the tour very much and at no time felt uneasy about security.


Paquimé was the center of the macaw trade from Central America into the American Southwest (and other trade as well) from about 1040 to about 1400 CE.  I had long wanted to see the Macaw pens (pictured above) where the birds were kept and raised.  Seeing the small pens filled out my overall impression of the trade of what was effectively a high value commodity.  Images of Macaws are found in pottery found at the site, photo right, and in petroglyphs throughout northern Mexico and the American Southwest.  Trade during that era had to involve high value commodity goods because of the time, distance, and effort involved in transport.  Bulk transport of goods over long distances was rare to non-existent.  

Paquimé had a sophisticated water control system which accessed a spring that was about five kilometers away and river water.  Underground drains, above ground reservoirs, and an elaborate fresh water distribution system supported the population of about 2,500 which lived in the city proper.  A sewage system also existed.  In many ways the water distribution system at Paquimé reminded me of that at Guayabo in Costa Rica.


The story of how Juan Quezada came to develop the pottery style known as Mata Ortiz is well known.  The excellent museum at the site is full of early pottery (photos right) which served as his inspiration.


The Macaw Trade

The glyph to the right, from the Pony Hills site in the southwestern portion of the Black Range, New Mexico probably represents a Scarlet Macaw but it is not possible to identify the glyph to species).  Macaws were an important trade item between Mesoamerica and the American Southwest.  Macaws are also depicted on Mimbres pottery.

There is some evidence that in the 900's juvenile birds were transported into the Mimbres area from Mesoamerica.  The Mimbres raised the birds to adulthood and then traded them farther north to Chaco and other ceremonial centers.  By the 1200s Paquimé had been built - quite possibly by Mimbres peoples moving out of the Mimbres Valley during the reorganization period, and others, and it became the intermediate stop in the trade of Macaws.

There is an excellent discussion of the Macaw trade by Richard D. Fisher in "Ancient Knowledge of the Chaco Canyon Anasazi".  In "Scarlet Macaws and Their Kin in the Desert Southwest”, Tom Leskiw (work originally from the Shatter College Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies) discusses the trade history of the Scarlet Macaw and the Thick-billed Parrot in the southwest, he also discusses the natural range of the Thick-billed Parrot.  The Macaw Feather Project seeks to meet the cultural need, of southwest indigenous peoples, for Macaw feathers in a legal manner.  Their site describes how such feathers are used and how they fit into the worldview of the indigenous peoples of the southwest.


In early October, 2016,  we visited the Sierra Madre Occidental of Chihuahua, Mexico.  The primary purpose of our trip was to visit the Cueva de la Olla archaeological site which dates from 5500 BCE.  In particular, I wanted to see the Olla at the site (the large jar or pot) which was used to store grain, it dates from about 950 to 1060 CE .  

There are a few sites in this region which have granaries like the “jar” which is found here, but they are rare.  There are other “prehistoric” dwelling sites in the area as well.  For those interested in visiting this archaeological site, I recommend contacting Luis Benavidez who does tours out of the “Pink Store” in Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico.  He is an excellent guide and can provide transport (van), lodging, and guide, from Palomas.

One of the highlights of my visit to Cueva de la Olla, in the Sierra Madre Occidental of Chihuahua, Mexico were the Acorn Woodpeckers, 
Melanerpes Formicivorus, which were at that site.  They were busy laying in stores for the winter, drilling holes in trees and filling each with an acorn - just like the humans who filled the Olla up the hill did.

I have seen lots of Acorn Woodpeckers in my journeys, but these trees and the bird’s activities were exceptional.  I was able to make a short video of the Acorn Woodpeckers (handheld).  

Woodpecker, Acorn Melanerpes formicivorus Cueva de la Olla, Chihuahua, Mexico


In early October, 2016, I visited Hacienda de San Diego, Chihuahua, Mexico, not far from Mata Ortiz.  These “lived-in ruins” were once the property of Luis Terrazaz, one of the better examples of wealth inequity and all that follows.  The hacienda was liberated by Pancho Villa in 1923 and is today “inhabited by the descendants of the campesinos who were living on it at the end of the revolution.”

In the area around Nuevo Casas Grandes I generally take time to photograph several bird species (European Starling, American Robin, and White-winged Dove) I could see in my yard in Hillsboro, including the Northern Mockingbird pictured below.


© Robert Barnes 2018